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Harrow to improve Blue Badge assessments following Ombudsman investigation

A London council has been criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for the way it assesses disabled people’s requests for two different transport schemes.

The Ombudsman has asked London Borough of Harrow and Access Independent (AI), the company that assesses people in the area for Blue Badges and Freedom Passes, to make a number of improvements to their processes following a number of complaints.

The Ombudsman has investigated eight complaints from people who have requested either a Blue Badge or Freedom Pass from the council. Those people needed a further assessment to establish whether they qualified for a badge or pass.

The investigation found a number of common faults with the way the council and AI conducted the assessments and responded to applicants. They include giving insufficient detail as to why people were turned down. And assessors’ decisions, sent out with the refusal letters, were unclear because of, for example, the use of handwriting, acronyms and jargon.

In other cases, the Ombudsman found the council had not recorded how it considered all the evidence – or lack of evidence – in some paper-based assessments. There was also not enough detail in assessment summaries for the reasons why decisions were made.

In some instances, people were given the wrong information about when they could reapply. This included assessors not considering the implications of new rules about ‘hidden disabilities’ when advising one applicant.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, yesterday said:

“We are highlighting this case because we have received significantly more complaints about Harrow than other councils in the London area on this issue. Travel and parking permits enable some of the most vulnerable people in society to access vital services; denying them without giving clear reasons and incorrect advice about reapplying can only add to people’s frustration and lack of trust in the process.

“In previous complaints the council has accepted recommendations to put things right, but could not commit when they would happen because it relied on the service provider to implement the changes.

“Therefore, I am pleased the council has now started putting in place changes to its systems and hope my further recommendations will ensure other vulnerable people are not disadvantaged by its assessment process.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to offer new assessments to five of the people mentioned in the report who have not already been offered a reassessment.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council will remind staff of their numerous duties and requirements when making assessments and communicating their decisions.

It will also draw up an action plan that will clearly specify when it will implement the recommended changes to the assessment process and decision letters, for paper, assessment, and appeal stage, decisions.

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Original article link: https://www.lgo.org.uk/information-centre/news/2020/oct/harrow-to-improve-blue-badge-assessments-following-ombudsman-investigation

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